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love's a burning building (or maybe just a burning stovetop)

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Some say love's a burning building

Love's a sinking ship

But I like the heat

I like the noise

 

[Gold Motel, "Summer House"]

 

--

I

--

 

She's been in her apartment for approximately seven hours when she hears the alarm, blaring and jarring and… not coming from any of her rooms, it turns out. It takes her a full two minutes to realize, because it's so loud that she figures it must be coming from somewhere within her place, but when she pushes out into the hallway, and sees the curls of smoke emerging from her neighbor's door, it's clear the walls are just really, really thin. It's a bad sign, probably, but she's a bit too preoccupied with the smoke and the whole busting into her neighbor's apartment with her shirt over her nose and mouth to mark it down as 'reason number five this apartment complex may have been a bad choice'.

Reasons number one through four are related to the alarming lack of outlets in each room—she was going to have to invest in a few more power strips—but she's not thinking of that either because she's past the (unlocked) front door and standing in a kitchen full of smoke, originating from a stove fire that is almost the same color as the hair of the woman attempting to smother it with what looks like flour.

It's working, but not well enough, and Beca finds herself grabbing a cookie sheet from the counter and quickly sliding it over the flame before even saying a word to the woman whose apartment she's just invaded.

The woman doesn't appear to mind. In fact, she grins. Full out. Beca feels a bit lightheaded and she's not sure she can blame the smoke.

"Well, that's a handy trick."

"Uh. Yeah. Sorry, I just saw—"

"Are you apologizing for charging into my apartment and basically saving my life?"

The woman looks so amused—a single eyebrow perfectly raised—that Beca has to laugh. "Uh, yeah. I guess. Sorry?"

"Sorry for saying sorry for being my own personal knight in… flannel?"

Beca looks down at her worn shirt and jeans and feels heat rise to her face, which is odd, because the fire is totally extinguished by now. But her neighbor just laughs and sticks out her hand (covered in flour, but Beca grasps it immediately anyways).

"I'm Chloe."

"Beca. I'm your new neighbor. Which is why I heard—" She gestures to the fire alarm still blaring over their heads. Funny, she'd almost forgotten it was there with Chloe's powdery hand in hers. She even regrets bringing it up, because Chloe's apparently been experiencing the same tunnel vision (so to speak) and pulls away quickly to start waving a dish towel in the air underneath the alarm.

"Right. Sorry about that! I was trying to make dinner and I just… forgot it was on the stove—I was watching Game of Thrones and—well, there goes the romantic-slash-apologetic gesture I was planning." Chloe's voice is loud—she's practically shouting over the noise, but there's still a musical quality to it that appeals to Beca.

A lot about the woman appeals to Beca.

(The flash of white teeth and the brightness of her eyes and the red of her hair—colors that even the lingering smoke can't dilute.)

"Yeah." Beca pauses. "Maybe get take-out and put it on some plates. He probably won't call you out on it."

"She," Chloe corrects with a grin. "But you're probably right. I guess I shouldn't ask the newbie where there's a good place to get homemade-tasting fried chicken in the area. Where'd you move from, anyways?"

"Portland." The smoke is clearing and the fire alarm finally shuts off—making Beca's voice ring out far too loud in the now-silent kitchen. She winces, but Chloe just giggles a little. "Portland," Beca says again, quieter this time, and that makes Chloe's giggle turn into a full laugh.

Stopping the smile that spreads across her face in response is pretty much impossible.

"Well, Beca from Portland. I think you and I are going to be fast friends." Chloe's stopped twirling the towel around her head and suddenly she's a lot closer than Beca is ready for (but that implies that she'd ever be ready for a beautiful stranger invading her personal spaces, and she's not sure that that's completely accurate).

"And… why is that? Exactly."

"Oh, you know, because you're this cool Portland girl who likes good music and knows how to put out stovetop fires. And I'm this cool Miami girl who likes good music and knows how to start those fires. It makes cosmic sense."

Beca doesn't really know what to say to that. Aside from ask the obvious question—she only gets as far as raising an eyebrow and opening her mouth to ask it when Chloe jumps in with the answer.

"I heard 'Titanium' coming from your place earlier today. That song is seriously my jam. Like—my lady jam."

Oh, god.

"Uh—yeah, so these walls are super thin, huh?"

Chloe nods and grins and proceeds to tell her all about the previous occupant of Beca's place (during which Beca resolves to have the carpets cleaned. Again.)

 

--

II

--

 

The walls really are thin.

It's confirmed that night when Beca's lying in bed, trying to determine how many hours of sleep she'll get if she slips into unconsciousness right at that moment (the answer is 5 hours and 42 minutes), all the while knowing that won't be happening.

Because apparently her neighbor is a lot more talented with her fingers and mouth than a stove. Or so Beca would guess from the number of times she hears the woman's name moaned at various volumes (varying degrees of loud, at least) over the span of the next hour.

At least she's not likely to draw a blank whenever she spots the redhead in the hallway—'Chloe' is kind of burned into her brain (well, more like 'ohfuckChloe', but Beca can filter out the unnecessary parts). She'd like to attach a bit of resentment to the name (to go along with the lack of sleep), but she can only manage a kind of admiration.

 

--

III

--

 

It's only two days later when it happens again (the fire alarm, not the porno sounds), and Beca wonders if this is going to become a thing.

The door is unlocked (again), which she discovers when she knocks (this time) and hears a slightly panicked 'come in' from inside. The scene is very much the same as before; Chloe frantically waving a towel in the air, though, at least this time there's no fire that Beca can see. So that's progress. Maybe.

"Sorry!" She yells. "Sorry!"

A laugh bubbles up in throat and she's really not sure where this sort of giddy response to everything Chloe does is even coming from, but her new neighbor is jumping around the kitchen swatting at tendrils of smoke and Beca just feels this fondness. Already.

"What'd you turn into coal this time?" Beca drawls, and this time she's lucky, because the alarm shuts off right before she speaks.

There's a bit of flour on Chloe's cheek—kind of close to the corner of her mouth, Beca thinks—and it lifts upwards with Chloe's sheepish smile.

"Cookies. And they were supposed to be for you."

The pleasure Beca feels at this statement is probably ridiculously disproportionate to the number of words contained within, but there's really no arguing with her subconscious about much of anything when it comes to Chloe.

"For me? Why?"

"Oh, you know! As an apology. For the fire alarm. And the sex."

Beca coughs. Loudly.

She turns pretty red too. Which is stupid. Shouldn't Chloe be the one who's embarrassed about all of this? She'd set her kitchen on fire. Again. And she'd been the one drawing out (and producing) enough moans to make any hot-blooded young person feel a little bit—not that Beca had, but—it would have been understandable if—

And now she's really red.

Great.

"It was breakup sex," Chloe continues, as though she's talking about the weather. "I really didn't have the heart to tell her to be quiet during breakup sex. You know?"

Beca doesn't know. Not really. Her breakups have never been quite so neat and finalized (wrapped with a neat little bow of breakup sex, oh-so-carefully). But she nods anyways.

"So, no apology cookies. I was jamming to Kanye and—" Chloe gestures to the oven helplessly, but brightens about one second later. "But oh! I haven't ruined your entire gift! Hold up one sec!"

Chloe skips off (actually skips) into an adjoining room that Beca's never seen and doesn't really feel comfortable venturing into now. What is the exact etiquette for standing in the still-smoky kitchen of a neighbor who you've only spoken to once before, but still know exactly how they sound while having breakup sex? Beca really doesn't know.

So she just sort of looks around the kitchen, waving the last remnants of smoke towards the fan above the stove, and grins a little at all the color coordination and overly cheerful animal cookie jars. (Does Chloe ever actually fill those, she wonders, with anything other than charcoal briquettes?) The room contains more fancy cooking appliances than Chloe probably has any right to, what with the way she treats her final product. But maybe Beca's just jealous of her futuristic looking blender that could probably churn out a pretty fantastic daiquiri without pausing every five seconds to allow the stupid thing to cool down (Beca's own blender had definitely seen better days).

When Chloe returns (not skipping, but there's a definite bounce to her step) Beca is poking at a cake knife that plays various songs when the proper button is pressed (she's poking at it because it won't stop with its cheery renditions), but she immediately pulls away from the stupid thing at Chloe's entrance, leaving the last bars of 'Happy Birthday' to echo around the kitchen.

"Okay, so not Happy Birthday, but Happy I'm So Sorry I Keep Making So Much Noise That You Can Definitely Hear Through These Really Thin Walls day!"

"I don't think that's a Hallmark-sanctioned holiday."

"Ah. That's probably why I couldn't find a card. Oh well, this will have to do!"

Chloe's grinning and Beca's grinning and she honestly feels like she is in a Hallmark commercial when she accepts the gift messily wrapped in a few pages from an old edition of the Economist.

"Open it!" The encouragement comes after less than a second of hesitation, and Beca smirks a little.

"I thought the person receiving the gift was supposed to be the impatient one."

"Don't be ridiculous. Now, open it!"

Beca rolls her eyes, but complies with the demand, taking her time with it, just to hear the slight (impatient) huff she somehow knows is coming. The parting paper reveals a jumble of colorful scribbles and bubbly handwriting (not pre-teen bubbly, but just curved in a way that is cheerful), decorating the cover of a CD, listing the tracks it holds.

"I didn't really know what you liked, so I just gave you my top 20."

The mix—Chloe's top 20—is a weird combination of songs; I Saw the Sign and No Diggity; Maps and Shoop; Mmmbop and Have Love, Will Travel; Good Vibrations and Whiskey Lullaby; Choke Me, Spank Me and Since U Been Gone. It's a mix in the truest sense of the word, and Beca immediately starts to imagine how she might make it all work together in a series of mashups.

"This is—"

"Fantastic, right?"

Chloe rocks on her feet, swaying slightly as though she can—at this very moment—hear the music burned onto the CD now in Beca's hands.

"Fantastic," Beca agrees, and Chloe beams at her. The brightness of the smile only partially dims with her next words.

"Seriously though, sorry about the cookies. They totes would have been fantastic too."

"Well, it happens. More often with you than anyone else, but—"

"Uh huh," Chloe bumps her shoulder gently, and Beca finds herself bumping back—drawn toward the other woman as though she's caught in her gravitational field. "Well, let me buy you coffee, then. And—oh! Let me guess... "

Chloe's left eye squints slightly as she peers at Beca for a long moment. "—You tell people you take it black but in your heart of hearts you like a… dark chocolate mocha."

Chloe's wrong, but not by much.

Beca's jaw drops a little—almost cartoon-like.

"Milk chocolate, but—how the hell could you possibly—"

She only receives a wink in response.

"So how about it, neighbor?"

Beca agrees readily, though she's not sure why.

It probably has something to do with the way Chloe's face lights up when she says yes.

 

--

IV

--

 

After two weeks of knowing Chloe, Beca buys her a timer.

After two months, she buys her a fire extinguisher.

The first gets her a hug that nearly knocks her off her feet.

The second gets her a kiss on the cheek.

 

--

V

--

 

After knowing Chloe for two months and one day, Beca realizes she's more than a little infatuated with her.

Shit, she thinks, and avoids Chloe for as long as she can. 

(26 hours. It ends up being a pathetic 26 hours.) 

 

--

VI

--

 

The next time is almost her fault.

Over time, Beca finds a whole host of reasons (other than a sounding fire alarm) to visit Chloe, and they all have to do with Chloe Beale herself—this amazing financial advisor (of all things) who feels very passionate about Sansa Stark and the Atlanta Braves and Ouija boards and the proper way to say 'via' and Brittany Spears. And more. So much more.

But most surprising to Beca, is that Chloe seems to feel passionate about Beca.

Just not in the way she wants. (Maybe. She's not sure. It's possible she—whatever.)

But Chloe cares. She listens to Beca and asks her about her work (her real job and her side ones), her favorites, her family, her plans, her best memories, and her apocalypse of choice. But best of all, when she asks, and Beca shifts her eyes away and stumbles over words meant to change the subject, Chloe continues on with her own answer or a different topic, without any application of guilt. She tells tales of her own that make Beca smile and laugh and forget that she normally doesn't find people this fascinating.

It's new and different and Beca feels herself sinking into it like quicksand (but only if quicksand looks like warm smiles and smells like burnt brownies and feels like soft, unobtrusive touches).

So it's no wonder that Chloe's laugh makes her feel a little giddy in a way she tries desperately to hide.

Like now.

Beca's telling this stupid story about this group of sorority girls who had stumbled (literally stumbled) into the club Beca had been spinning at and… it's really not that funny of a story but Chloe's laughing like Beca's just told the best joke she's ever heard.

It's kind of more than flattering.

And more than cute.

"But no, really," Chloe giggles. "When can I come and watch you spin? It's a cruel world that has these drunken teens get to experience DJ Beca Mitchell and I just get a grumpy face every time I ask about when you'll be up in the booth."

"I don't give you a grumpy face," Beca grumbles.

"Sure you do." Chloe's giggles continue. "You're giving me one now."

She feels her pout deepen and that just sets Chloe off again, even going so far as to reach out and pinch one of Beca's cheeks as she leans forward with the force of her laughter. And how can anyone maintain anything other than a smile in the face of that and so Beca's smiling and Chloe's leaning forward and her hand has stopped trying to pinch and has settled there and they're just sort of staring at each other and Beca's thinking about Chloe's mouth and—

The fire alarm goes off.

(It's toast this time. Fucking garlic toast.)

She's not sure whether she's grateful or whether she wants to tear that piece of shit fire alarm out of the ceiling.

It's probably the latter.

 

--

VII

--

 

Five days later, there's no shrill sound to stop her.

There's just Chloe Beale and her blue eyes and her easy smile and the lips that Beca can't keep her eyes off of.

Or, it turns out, her mouth.

Really, it's not any sort of conscious thought that has Beca fitting her mouth over Chloe's—simply a need and a want and a shift forward and then it's softness and a surprised noise from someone and an open mouth and then another noise that isn't so much surprise as it is arousal and—

And there's still no fire alarm, but Beca hears a warning bell in her head anyways (too fast—too much) and she's pulling back and stumbling away and stammering out an apology and leaving Chloe's apartment and bursting onto the street outside of their complex, sucking air into her lungs like she's escaped a building on fire.

But no.

It's not the building.

(It's not even Chloe's stove.)

It's just Beca's heart pumping so hard that it's surely producing smoke—an old machine put into use for the first time in years.

 

 

--

VIII

--

 

Hiding from your neighbor is actually really hard.

It doesn't help that Beca's the kind of awkward that makes her start at any noise coming from anywhere in the apartment complex. It leads to a stressful three days, during which Beca tiptoes around her apartment and puts an ear to her door before leaving.

It's stupid. Childish.

But she does it anyways.

Not that it does any good, because on day three Chloe knocks on her door (loudly—so loudly that Beca hears it through her headphones, but that's probably because she's been listening with one ear cup off so as to hear any sounds coming from next door).

The knock is followed by Chloe's voice, and Beca stands at the sound, stumbling to the side and ripping her headphones out of the jack, probably doing permanent damage because that's just the sort of luck she has.

"Beca, I know you're in there."

Chloe doesn't sound angry as much as—well, actually she sounds calm—non-accusatory, even. But maybe a little sad. Enough that Beca finds herself creeping towards the door (trying not to make a sound, even if Chloe does, apparently know she's there) and coming to rest a few feet from where Chloe's voice is originating.

"Can't we just talk? Please?"

Beca takes two steps forward. But then stops. Sucks in a breath. And another. (There's still smoke in her lungs, but it's clearing. She's confusing her metaphors though, because she's not sure if this is a good or bad thing.) The next few steps are taken quickly, and she throws the door open in a fit of bravery that feels foreign.

But the hallway is empty.

And her bravery doesn't extend to the hallway (let alone the apartment next door).

 

--

IX

--

 

It's almost a familiar sound by now—the siren-like noise coming from the apartment next to hers. But it still pieces her eardrums and makes her fall off the couch she had previously been resting on. (Not 'moping' on it like Stacie had said when she called to see where the hell Beca had been recently.)

It makes her rush to her door like she normally does—throw it open, along with, two seconds later, the one left of hers. Because there's that worry (that same fear that has her vehemently protesting whenever Chloe talks about taking out the batteries of her alarm, even for a second) that this time the fire will be a bit too much for a cookie sheet or even a fire extinguisher, and that fear is clouding her senses when she enters the kitchen and—

And there's Chloe. Standing on a chair, holding up a smoking roll of newspaper (the New York Times, it looks like) under her fire alarm.

As blasé as anything.

Just standing there.

"What the hell, Chloe?"

The woman in question doesn't reply, merely steps of the chair and walks to the sink, drowning the newspaper under a stream of cool water. The alarm stops, plunging them in near silence.

"Chloe! Seriously! What the fuck?"

"Well, how else was I supposed to get your attention?" She says finally, her words coming out as a bit of a whine.

"Any way other than this, I think."

"I tried other ways." Chloe's hip is popped out and her face is set and Beca doesn't much like this look on her at all. "Look, I get it if you don't want to be in any kind of relationship with me, but I thought we were at least friends."

Beca steps forward at that. "We are. And it's not that—"

A shake of the head is all she can manage for a moment, but Chloe waits (albeit with fingers drumming against her hip).

"—I'm not so good with words."

"Neither am I, Beca."

Her response is a look of incredulity, and Chloe continues immediately upon seeing the expression.

"Not like this. I'm good at telling people what they want to hear." Chloe's hands drop and her eyes shift and her shoulders even drop a little and Beca takes another step closer, reflexively. "I'm good at telling you it's okay if you just want to be friends, if that's what you want. I'm good at agreeing that kiss was a mistake, if you think it was. I'm good at saying I don't want to kiss you right now, if you don't want to be kissed."

Beca's lips are dry, or maybe that's just her throat, but she licks her lips anyways. It doesn't really help, but she pushes forwards nevertheless.

"What if I don't want to just be friends? What if I don't think it was a mistake? What if I—want to be kissed? Now. By you."

It's Chloe's turn to step forwards— until her bare feet are right in front of Beca's booted ones (Chloe's lack of shoes makes them almost the same height, and Beca's gaze is drawn upwards almost immediately, towards blue eyes that are bright with a hope that Beca feels unworthy of).

"Then—then I might be able to tell you what I want to say."

"Which is...?" Beca's hands are stuffed in her pockets, but they strain against the material, longing to be on Chloe's hips, but (still) not sure.

"Which is," Chloe begins softly— surprisingly hesitant. "'I want to be more than friends' and 'that kiss wasn't a mistake' and 'I want to kiss you. Now.'"

There's really only one response to that.

It involves Beca's hands finally finding Chloe's hips and Chloe's lips finding Beca's mouth (and feeling the curl of Chloe's smile and the nip of her teeth and sighing with the feeling of it all).

"Okay," Beca breathes—belatedly but not irrelevantly, because as far as she's concerned, Chloe can kiss her 'now' anytime.

(Over and over.)

Chloe's laugh is warm against her lips, and that warmth settles in her stomach and bubbles up into her chest.

"So I'm not going to have to set my fire alarm off to get your attention anymore?"

"Definitely not. But you'll still set it off."

Chloe grins widely, and Beca feels it spread. "Definitely."

Beca's okay with that.

 

--

X

--

 

"Okay. NOW!"

With a dramatic flourish, Chloe pulls the pan off the stove and places it on top of a fuchsia pot holder, grinning widely as she shuts off the stove with her other hand. As soon as these tasks are complete, she lets out a little squeak and jumps into Beca's arms, kissing her soundly on the mouth.

"I did it!"

Beca grins. "You did. A perfectly cooked meal. No fires. No smoke. Just meat sautéed to perfection."

"You're perfection," Chloe returns, with an exaggerated wink.

Chloe's getting better at saying what she wants to say. And Beca's getting better at kissing Chloe. (A lot. Over and over.) And at pushing her towards the bedroom with a grin that isn't even a little unsure.

When they return to the kitchen, nothing's on fire.

The meal's just stone cold instead.

Beca figures they can call that progress.